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Department of Energy Should Extend Deadline for Comments on Radioactive Metals Recycling

July 13, 2001

Department of Energy Should Extend Deadline for
Comments on Radioactive Metals Recycling

Comment Period on Scope of Programmatic Environmental
Impact Statement Is Too Short

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen has requested that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) extend its deadline to receive comments on a proposal that is critical in establishing how radioactively contaminated scrap metals will be disposed of. The current deadline for comments is Sept. 10, which allows the public only two months to examine what are highly complex issues.

The DOE on Thursday published a Notice of Intent for a document called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which is designed to examine alternatives for disposing of the contaminated materials. The notice lists various policy alternatives, all of which allow for the disposal of radioactively contaminated metals in unlicensed sanitary landfills, where they would be treated as “non-radioactive.”

The PEIS also could permit the “unrestricted release of scrap metals from DOE radiological areas and scrap metals outside radiological areas that may have residual surface radioactivity.” This would allow the metals to be recycled, where they could end up in any number of consumer and industrial products. It is highly unlikely that any such materials would be tracked or labeled, so consumers would be denied the opportunity to make informed choices and avoid any radiation hazards.

“All of these possible outcomes sound frighteningly similar to previous policies of the NRC, which attempted to assist the nuclear industry by eliminating some types of nuclear waste from regulatory control,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Although Congress wisely revoked those policies in 1992, it looks as though DOE is attempting to revive them by tinkering with the language and attaching various euphemisms to what is really the recycling of nuclear waste.”

The Notice of Intent also announced that six public meetings are to be held around the country beginning at the end of July. This provides less than three weeks for concerned citizens who plan to participate to study the relevant issues and prepare accordingly.

“Considering the enormous impact such a policy could have, public participation must be taken seriously, and processes must be conducted with integrity, ” Hauter wrote in a letter to Carolyn Huntoon, assistant secretary of the Department’s Office of Environmental Management. “Unless corrected, the unacceptably short comment period will further erode public confidence in the department’s handling of the dangerous materials of our nation’s nuclear legacy.”

The DOE was instructed in January by then-Secretary Bill Richardson to publish the Notice of Intent by March 20. However, by publishing it this week, the department in effect extended its own deadline by 114 days.

“If the agency can extend the deadline for itself, we certainly hope it will extend the same benefit to the public,” said Dave Ritter, policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The agency has all the resources, while the public does not. Further, people?s summer schedules are irregular. And once the scope of this document is set, there?s no going back. It?s critical to get it right now, and the public should have at least until December to do that.”